Kevin Everett who wrote an article on TriTopics about his recent race at St Anthony’s Triathlon stirred memories of hospitals, doctors and IVs. He mentioned his wife Hortie and what she witnessed on that day. My heart immediately went out to them both. My wife and I have come to know Kevin and Hortie via F2R’s sponsorship because of his swim prowess and them staying in our home when they come to town. Not to mention I’m an old friend of his Dads. After reading I replied to him with an email that went something like what is written bellow. It was the first time I have written in detail the events that took place 14 years ago. I am sharing it because I believe there are a few lessons to be learned for the benefit of the endurance world, which I have grown to love.
Oh man, talk about flash backs. Your story took me to 1994 Canadian Ironman where Chris Chorak’s new live boy friend coaches her for her first Ironman. The normal dramatic details leading up to the race I will leave out other then meeting her parents for the first time. Yes, the new boy friend meets the parents in Penticton for their daughter’s debut in Ironman. He imagines they think “he sure has long hair. He seems like a nice guy, but what exactly does he do for work?”
On the night before the race imagine the ritual of packing the feed bag that she will carry for supplies. Five sodium tabs included with energy gel, Advil and Tums.
Race day top 10 out of the water, wow!! Middle of the pack bike finish and now she starts the journey to bring it home. Hydrate, hydrate, water is the only thing that taste good. Sodium tab tastes like crap and she spits it out. Photographs show increase in body mass as the miles pass. Live in boy friend now known to all as Paul joins friend in the beer garden before running out to the course to run in with Chorak.
On the course time passes and it sure is taking a lot longer then anticipated. Ambulance goes by, and more time passes, another ambulance goes by. It’s hot! Paul calls hotel to check with friend’s wife to see how he did in the race. In a sharp and worried tone she snaps “Paul where are you, Chris is in the hospital?” (Writing about that moment 14 years later still bring tears to my eyes)
Copious amounts of water triggers brain to shut down kidneys. Chris continues water which is why photographs illustrated and document increased body mass as race goes on. Some place around mile 14 Chris’ last memory is when her focus is lost into the closing walls of a dark tunnel. Mile 21 brain swells, Chris suffers a Grand Mall seizure and throws, an often reenacted by friend who was there, jitter bug dance while sprawled on the pavement.
Paul runs 10k to hotel to get car, feet never touches the ground. In the room he grabs the keys, races to the car while friend’s wife follows begging to drive. “NO!” Enter emergency room where Chris is being wheeled from emergency room to intensive care. Screaming sounds more like loud moaning. She’s fighting and not conscious. Chris’ mom asks “where were you we called your name on the PA? You go with her I can’t hold her down”. Paul’s focus turns to Chris. “What happened, Chris the race is done hold still you’re going to pull out your IV!
Hour’s latter doctor explains she is hyponatrimic. “Her sodium levels have drop dangerously low. “
Normal levels are 135ml/l (not sure of exact measurement) life threatening is 120 and Chris has dropped to 112. She has slipped into a coma. If we don’t get her sodium up she will die, if we bring it up to quickly she will suffer brain damage”. In order to do this properly I need to know exactly how much she weighs”. Returned by blank stares the room turns to Paul. “125 pounds with as if her life depended on the answer assurance”. His stomach flips, he bites his lips not to cry. Iron taste of blood touches his tong, the tears stay at bay.
More time passes as Chris lies in bed moaning in pain, grinding her teeth. “The noise what is that?” “It’s her teeth” the nurse says. “She’s grinding them because of the pain.” All the time she is running and repeatedly bringing her fingers to her mouth. Its getting late and her parents go to get something to eat. “Paul, we’ll bring you something from McDonalds”, Chorak’s Dad says. Years ago he swore to never eat from the food chain again, “a Big Mac is fine”, replies Paul. Thinking he will be of no use if he doesn’t eat. The food returns, parents are talking to doctors, and alone with Chris in the room Paul is eating his Big Mac when she begins to vomit. He jumps to turn her to her side and calls for the nurse. Two rush in to clear her throat and he returns to his chair. He picks up his Big Mac and obliviously continues to eat watching Chris throwing up what remained in her stomach. Copious amounts of water and bile. A nurse asks him to leave the room with his Big Mac as the smell of food and vomit is causing her to gag.
It’s close to midnight and the parents are going to the hotel. After the vomiting incident nobody argued with Paul for wanting to stay by her side watching her monitors alerting the nurses of any changes. 1am a visit by a disconnected doctor trying to offer some sort of comfort. 2am the clock stops Chris runs, moans grinds her teeth the clocks moves again. 3am, feeling alone “I can’t do this I can’t hold it together, I can’t…” Paul goes to the waiting room where he finds a phone. The number he remembers is his friend’s girl friend where he is sure to hear a familiar voice. She answers from deep sleep, “he’s not here honey what’s wrong?” Tears muffle words but his message is clear. “I can’t do this I can’t hold it together. I can’t loose her.” “You can do this Paul, you go to her bed and you place your hands on her and tell her your there.” “Talk to her Paul, you are there because you have the strength to be there. For no other reason you are there. She needs you and that is why you are there, you go in her room, hold her, and tell her you love her, tell her you need her, she will hear you”. “Ok, thank you Barb, I’ll call you later.”
Morning comes Mom and Dad come into the room to see no change. Another day passes. They learn of another participant in the race, a neighbor from the hotel, he entered a coma the same time Chris entered with the same condition. Sodium levels are monitored and compared. A specialist is flown in, doctors from Hawaii Ironman are consulted, and notes are compared. The clock ticks, stops while Chris runs, moans and grinders her teeth. A pimple forms on her cheek.
Time shared the clock ticks, it stops as she runs, moans, grinds and the pimple grows into a full white head. Chris raises her head, opens her eyes, picks her face to break the pimple and lies back down. Another day passes the clock ticks, she moans, the running has stopped, the teeth still grind. What happened when time was shared? Well, love was formed and Mom and Dad gained another son.
It still haunts me enough to have to write about it in third person. Five days passed, I never slept more then an hour. She woke from a coma at the very minute the neighbor from the room next door. She was laughing, and felt like she was in trouble for something. Her short term memory was completely gone. Conversations that took place in the same minute were like they never happened. She was alive, she was laughing and somehow we believed she would be better. We all drove to
Seattle and had dinner.
In 1999 I coached 28 athletes across the finish line in Penticton ; Chris Chorak was one of those athletes. It was the longest day of my life. The sounds of helicopters, ambulances, and muffled announcements on the PA moaned through the dry hot air. At the end of the day I drove to the hospital and walked into the emergency room. I looked in the eyes of the families waiting to hear the news of their loved ones who were transported from the race in ambulances. My friends and family were safe, but I will never be the same. It was a hard place to go it was the right place.
Enough time has passed I know now things could have been much worse. From this I learned some things bad end up being our greatest gifts. I married Chris, her parents and I have a respect for each other and share an enormous love. We deeply understand and respect the common love for Chris. The once holy grail of a finish line has a new meaning. I no longer climb a mountain to get to the top, and often stop just shy to remind myself I’m simply here to see the view. I know that I have an enormous strength to do what needs to be done when my loved ones need me, and I don’t take it for granted the strength is because of the belief they have in me. It’s the community of family and friends that brings us strength and without each other we are alone. Triathlon is a wonderful way to learn about our strengths, our fears, our limitations, but in no way compares to what we learn from each other.
© 2007 Paul Lundgren of F2R - Manufacturer of Triathlon Wetsuits
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